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Five techniques to help you relax

This is an excerpt from Fitness After 50 by Walter Ettinger,Brenda Wright & Steven N. Blair.

Everyone feels tense from time to time. When you do, practice one of these relaxation techniques. As with any new habit, you must practice these techniques to get a benefit.

  • Deep-breathing exercises—You've heard this before: Take a deep breath and relax. Taking more than one deep breath is even better. Begin by breathing in slowly and deeply through your nose. While breathing in, count to five and silently say the word “in” to yourself. Notice that your abdomen relaxes as your lungs fill with air. After the count of five, slowly let the air out as you count to five and say the word “out” to yourself. Repeat the exercise for at least five minutes. You may do these exercises while sitting, standing, or lying down. For best results, get comfortable by loosening your tie, belt, or buttons. A quiet place is recommended, but not necessary. Deep breathing is the first step of many relaxation techniques, so practice and learn to do it anywhere.
  • Visualization—Begin with a few minutes of deep breathing. Then close your eyes and create a mental image of a scene in which you are perfectly relaxed. Imagine that you are walking in a rain forest, sailing on a boat in the ocean, or overlooking over a beautiful valley from the top of a mountain. Continue to breathe deeply. Involve all your senses in escaping to your special place. What sounds do you hear? How does the air smell and feel on your skin? Are you feeling as relaxed as if you were really there? Visualization gives your mind a rest when you are feeling stressed. Many people say that some of their most creative ideas and solutions come after visualizations.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation—At first, you should do this technique while lying down. Choose a quiet place where you will not be disturbed for at least 20 minutes. Begin with deep-breathing exercises. Try to relax your entire body. Starting at your feet and working up your body, contract each muscle group tightly as you inhale. Hold the contraction for a few seconds; then exhale and relax. Let the tension flow out with each breath. Notice the feel of the muscles as they contract and relax. Move up the body from the feet to the calves, thighs, buttocks, abdomen, hands, arms, and shoulders. End with the muscles of the face, mouth, jaw, eyes, and scalp. Allow more time for the relaxation phase of the exercise. If a muscle seems particularly tense, repeat the contraction for that muscle group. When you finish, lie very still for at least five minutes. (You may want to include a visualization exercise at this time.) When you are ready to get up, count backward from 10 to 1. Get up slowly and carefully. Do progressive muscle relaxation daily for best results. With practice, you can learn to do progressive muscle relaxation while sitting in a chair.
  • Stretching—Most people hold tension in their head, neck, and shoulder areas (called the stress triangle). The base of the triangle is the midpoint between your shoulders and neck. The top of the triangle is on your forehead between your eyes. Stretching can help relieve tension in your stress triangle. Stop and do a few stretches, especially when you are doing a tedious task. More about stretching is provided in chapter 10.

Overhead stretch—With one arm, reach up as if you were reaching for an object on a high shelf. Repeat with the other arm.

Shoulder shrugs—Lift your shoulders up and make large circles going forward and backward. You can rotate both shoulders or stretch one at a time.

Neck roll—Keep your left shoulder level while stretching the right ear to the right shoulder. Roll your head down so that your chin is on your chest. Repeat the stretch with your left side. Do not let your head drop back.

  • Self-massage—You can learn to give yourself a massage. Massage relaxes muscles, relieves pain, increases blood flow to the skin and muscles, eases mental stress, and helps you feel more relaxed.

Shoulder and back of neck—Massage your stress triangle, using your left hand to work on your right shoulder and your right hand to work on your left shoulder. Begin at your shoulder blade and move up toward the back of your neck, including the scalp. Use a circular motion to massage the thickest part of the muscle. Repeat several times on both sides. Some health and wellness stores sell a device called a back buddy, an S-shaped item made of tubular plastic with a few knobs on it. You can use it to apply pressure to your neck and back and work on the areas where muscles feel tight.

Head and face—Use your fingers to apply pressure on your forehead between your eyes (the top point of your stress triangle). Use your thumbs to apply gentle pressure on the areas below your brow bone close to your nose. Use gentle circular motions to rub the area of your temples and behind your ears. Rub your scalp with a gentle and rapid motion as though you are shampooing your hair.

Feet—Use your thumbs to rub the full length of your foot, from the heel to the toes and back. Rub each toe individually. Hold your ankle in one hand and your toes in the other. Rotate your foot at the ankle in both directions.

Massage is not a substitute for medical treatment for an injury. See your doctor if you have an injury, such as a sprain, tendinitis, or a swollen joint.

More Excerpts From Fitness After 50